New York City: Access in the Big Apple

If you’ve avoided visiting New York City because you think it’s too big, too scary and too inaccessible, you’re making a big mistake. The places you probably most want to see and the things you most want to do are easily reached. Crime is way down and every single city bus is lift-equipped.

As someone who has lived and worked in and around the Big Apple all of his life, I’m an unabashed fan. This glittering, glamorous town has more of life’s good stuff–theaters, museums, sports venues, restaurants and beautiful parks–than any place I’ve found in a lifetime of travel.

Twenty years ago, when I began using a wheelchair, New York was a very tough town on gimps. Curb cuts were rare. Now it’s a little unusual when one is missing. Some top attractions, like the Empire State Building, were inaccessible then. Today, visitors on wheels go to the head of the line as they do at the Statue of Liberty. Many other tourist spots built long before accessibility awareness have since added ramps, lifts and wheelchair seating.

Sure, things still could be better. Curb cuts are inconsistent. Forty subway stations are now wheelchair accessible, but don’t use them–you can easily catch a wheel in the gap between the platform and the train. What’s more, the rough riding cars have no wheelchair tie-downs. And unlike Las Vegas and many other towns, New York is still trying to figure out wheelchair accessible taxis.

Getting Settled
Most visitors fly into one of three busy airports. If you’re using a folding manual wheelchair and are able to transfer, grab a cab to your hotel. You’ll pay a flat rate set by law, plus tip and any bridge or tunnel tolls. Call one of the transportation services at least 24-hours in advance if you need a lift-equipped van.

If you drive, find an inexpensive parking lot–they’re cheaper than garages–and forget about driving. We don’t have handicapped parking zones. Instead, we issue special parking permits to disabled residents, full-time students and workers. Tourists have absolutely no chance of scoring one.

New York has hundreds of hotels. The Times Square area is tourist central and no wonder. It’s the theater district, close to many major attractions. Hotel prices tend to be high all over town but lately, because of overbuilding and a softened economy, you can find some real bargains. Ask your travel agent and check the Internet travel sites and the travel section of your newspaper for low-cost packages.

Overview
First, you’ll want to get an overview of the town. Gray Line tours has just added 30 new buses with wheelchair ramps. They offer a variety of guided tours. Or, take a three-hour cruise on the Circle Line. The lower decks are wheelchair accessible. You’ll sail completely around Manhattan–yes, it really is an island. A guide describes the sights.

From the Circle Line pier you can’t help notice the imposing aircraft carrier docked just to the north. It’s the World War II-era U.S.S. Intrepid, now a sea, air and space museum. You can visit its exhibit-packed main deck, but its flight deck is not accessible. Wheelchair users get in for half price.

With more than 18,000 restaurants of every imaginable size, price range and ethnicity, you need a guidebook like Zagat’s. Happily, the vast majority of New York eateries are wheelchair accessible. Always ask if there is a way to get in even when you think it’s impossible.

The Broadway theater is one of New York’s unique attractions, and it’s unmatched in quality and variety. Bargain tickets for wheelchair users are often available. There’s nothing like seeing a Broadway show.

Then there’s famed Central Park, an 843-acre rectangular oasis of sylvan green occupying some of the city’s most valuable real estate. Roaming around by wheelchair is fairly easy since most of its hills are gentle. Explore and you’ll find a zoo, restaurants, theaters, two skating rinks, a carousel and John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields Memorial. There also are lakes, ponds, and acres of lawns and woods.

Museums
Midway on the park’s west side sits the American Museum of Natural History and the new Rose Center for Earth and Space. They are completely accessible, as are almost all of the city’s 150 museums. This Natural History Museum, most famous for its huge dinosaur skeletons, has countless other exhibits and a giant-screen IMAX theater.

The Rose Center, attached to the museum’s north side, is a dramatic giant glass box. Inside is a blue sphere containing the Hayden Planetarium and many very cool high-tech displays, including a ramp with an earth timeline explaining theories about the origin of the earth and the cosmos.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is across Central Park and is the nation’s top art museum. The Met’s masterpiece-studded collection has more than two million works covering 5,000 years of history. This massive building is the south end of a stretch of Fifth Avenue known as Museum Mile.

Stay on the less bumpy east side of 5th Avenue. Among Museum Mile’s landmarks are the Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The interior of this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building is a long and steep spiral ramp. Take the elevator all the way to the top and roll down. In Midtown, closer to your hotel, you’ll find the Museum of Modern Art, featuring unique works of art from 1800 until today.

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is another of the city’s great cultural gems. Built in the 1960s, its concert halls and theaters have all been made wheelchair accessible. The Center is home to 12 world-renown independent companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet.

Sports and More
New York is a big league sports town like no other. Its ballparks and arenas are some of the nation’s most famous. And except for the recently built and very accessible Arthur Ashe Stadium, they also are among the oldest. The seating for people with disabilities simply isn’t as good as in newer ballparks. Still, Yankee and Shea Stadiums, Madison Square Garden and the Continental Airlines Arena all have space for wheelchairs.

The only teams you won’t be able to see are the Giants and Jets, who play in Giants Stadium in nearby New Jersey. You have to be on a list to get tickets. However, the professional women’s soccer team, the Metro Stars, also play there. You can buy tickets for their games.

Many wonderful free sights can be accessed within easy rolling distance of your hotel. Some of my favorites are Times Square at night; the Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center; the early morning mob in front of the nearby Today Show studio; the exclusive stores on Fifth and Madison avenues; the main branch of the New York Public Library, with its changing free exhibits; and the lovely Bryant Park, just behind the library. Not far from there is the newly restored Grand Central Terminal, with its mouth-watering food market on the lower level. Somewhat further away are the buildings of the United Nations.

Don’t skip Lower Manhattan, the oldest part of the city. This is where you catch the boat to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and the Staten Island Ferry. Passengers enjoy free 50-minute roundtrip rides across New York Harbor.

While downtown, stop by the National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian Institution. It has the world’s largest collection devoted to natives of all the Americas. Roll down the narrow canyons of Wall Street to the New York Stock Exchange. Go inside for free interactive exhibits. Not far from here on Fulton Street you’ll find the South Street Seaport. Antique sailing ships are tied up to the piers near shops, restaurants, cafés and excursion boats. Someone once said that if the Seaport were in any other city, it would be the major attraction. In New York, it is almost lost.

That’s true of so many of the highlights in this big town. There’s an endless number of things to see and do here. You’ll find it much friendlier and much more accessible than you ever expected.

What You Need to Know

  • Broadway Times Square Visitors Center, 1560 Broadway, New York, NY 10036; 212/768-1560; www.timessquarebid.org.
  • Zagat’s New York City 2001: This restaurant guide is available at libraries, bookstores, and online at www.zagat.com. More places are accessible than noted.

Lift Equipped Transport

  • Gray Line Air Shuttle, 212/315-3006.
  • Symphony Transportation, 800/253-1443.
  • New York Transit Authority Travel Info for People with Disabilities, 718/596-8585; www.mta.nyc.ny.us/nyct/paratran/index.html. accessible times square

District Hotels

  • Courtyard by Marriott-Times Square South, 114 W. 40th St., NY, NY 10018; 212/391-0088.
  • Days Hotel Midtown, 790 8th Ave., NY, NY 10019; 212/581-7000.
  • Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel, 851 8th Ave., NY, NY 10019; 212/581-4100.
  • Millennium Broadway, 145 W. 45th St., NY, NY 10036; 212/768-4400.
  • New York Marriott Marquis,1535 Broadway, NY, NY 10036; 212/398-1900. sightseeing
  • Gray Line,1740 Broadway, NY, NY 10036; 212/397-2620; www.graylinenewyork.com.
  • Circle Line, Pier 83, 12th Ave.; 212/563-3200; www.circleline.com.

Broadway Theatres
Check The New York Times, The New Yorker or New York magazine or log on to .

  • Shubert Theaters, including Broadhurst, Broadway, Imperial, Majestic, Shubert, Winter Garden and others: $7.50 each for wheelchair users and one companion; 212/239-6200.
  • Nederlander Theaters, including Brooks Atkinson, Helen Hayes, Neil Simon, Palace, Marquis, Minskofs, Lunt Fontaine, Gershwin, Richards Rogers and others: $20 discounted tickets for wheelchair users and companion; 212/921-8000.
  • Jujamcyn Theaters: Wheelchair users pay half price; 212/840-8181.
  • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts: 212/875-5374 for wheelchair seating. Ask for the accessibility guide; www.lincolncenter.org.

Museums

  • Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, Pier 86, 12th Ave. and 46th St.; 212/245-0072; www.intrepidmuseum.org.
  • American Museum of Natural History and the Rose Center for Earth and Space, Central Park West at 79th St., NY, NY 10024; 212/769-5100; www.amnh.org/museum. Wheelchair entrance on West 77th Street side.
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue and 82nd St., NY, NY 10028; 212/535-7710; www.metmuseum.org. Use entrance left of main entrance.
  • Solomon M. Guggenheim Museum, Fifth Avenue and 89th St., NY, NY 10128; www.Guggenheim.org.
  • Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design, Fifth Avenue and 89th St., NY, NY 10128; 212/849-8400; www.si.edu/ndm. Ramp left of main entrance.
  • Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian,1 Bowling Green, NY, NY 10004; 212/514-3700; www.conexus.si.edu.
  • Museum of Modern Art,11 W. 53rd St., Y, NY 10019; 212/619-4785; www.moma.org.

Sports Tickets

Midtown Meanderings

Downtown Delights

  • Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island; Staten Island Ferry; The World Trade Center; New York Stock Exchange; South Street Seaport: Contact NYC Visitor Information Center, 810 Seventh Ave., NY, NY 10019; 212/484-1200; www.nycvisit.com.

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